Life for active-duty families who have children with special needs can be tough, but a new program at Hill Air Force Base is striving to make it easier.
The base has joined forces with Utah State University to start the Military Family Support 360 project.
The project, which is funded by a federal grant and will take five years to complete, aims to identify and support military families who have dependents with developmental disabilities. Tammy Custer, a military spouse of 23 years who has two children with special needs, will administer the program along with Judy Maughan, Hill's school liaison officer.
Utah State was responsible for obtaining the grant and will advise and monitor how the program is executed. Custer said the program doesn't develop a new system within the military, but identifies services already available and establishes a single point of contact for information, support and referrals for special-needs families.
"We are trying to assist families with special needs and help them access the resources that will benefit them and strengthen their family," Custer said.
"We want these families to meet their greatest potential and be successful now and in the future. This program will help with that."
Hill is one of four sites across the Air Force participating in the program.
After five years, the grant money will run out and program officials will have to secure funding again.
"We're really trying to do a good job so that we can show it works and get the money to continue it in the future," Custer said.
On March 31, Hill will host a special-needs conference on base, bringing together special needs families and service providers.
The summit will include more than 50 agencies serving physical, mental, neurological and emotional disabilities and covering a breadth of needs for all ages.
The conference will be from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Club Hill and is open to Hill civilians, contractors, active duty members and National Guard and Reserve members from the area.
Col. Don Hickman, commander of the 75th Medical Group, said thousands of families throughout the Air Force -- and more than 300 at Hill -- have children and adult members who require special-needs assistance.
"The Air Force has been continuously deployed and engaged overseas, which puts great strains on our members and their families," Hickman said.
"Our school-age children move an average of six to nine times before their high school graduation, and our special-needs families face additional burdens when they move to new assignments and face the hurdles of finding and accessing the necessary support services."
In the past, the Air Force has served families with special needs through the Exceptional Family Member Program.
As part of that program, Airmen with children who have major medical needs are stationed at an installation near a hospital that can accommodate them.
EFMP will continue to exist at Hill, but will now be supplemented by the Family Support 360 program.
"A program like this takes away all the stress when you go somewhere new and you have to scramble to get certain resources," said Tech Sgt. Dan Bosche, who has a child with special needs.
"Having all your resources available in one place is invaluable."
For more information about the Special Needs Resource Center or about the upcoming Special Needs Summit, call Custer at (801) 586-4735 or Maughan at (801) 775-5960.